Two startups from MechSE alumni are Chicago Makers to Watch
ChicagoInno has named “12 Chicago Makers to Watch”—a list that includes two companies developed by MechSE alumni.
Tovala has created a “smart” oven and meal delivery service that aims to simplify home cooking. Tovala's countertop oven uses a combination of steam, baking and broiling to create restaurant-quality meals right from your home. The oven scans the barcode of a Tovala-delivered meal, and pulls data from the cloud to know how exactly to cook the meal, switching between the three cooking methods. One of Chicago's most funded hardware startups, Tovala has raised more than $13 million from investors including Origin Ventures, the Pritzker Group, Y Combinator, and Tyson Foods.
Tovala was co-founded by Bryan Wilcox (PhD ME ’11) and David Rabie, an MBA graduate of the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.
Chicago startup Jiobit makes wearable tracking devices for children and pets. Jiobit improves upon existing tracking technology by using a combination of GPS and beacon technology to help parents keep track of their kids with a wearable device that attaches to a child's clothing. Jiobit, founded by a team of ex-Motorola engineers, has raised $11 million to date from investors that include NETGEAR, MATH Venture Partners and Techstars. Along with selling its product to worried parents and pet owners, the startup has started signing on enterprise customers, like government agencies in the national defense and security space.
Roger Ady (BSME ’84) is the CTO and co-founder of Jiobit. Also on the team as a mechanical engineer/architect is alumnus Jason Thompson (BSME ’05).
From the ChicagoInno website:
Silicon Valley is often thought of as ground zero for U.S. hardware startups, but Chicago has its own history of hardware innovation. It's the city where the first cell phone was invented, and where Motorola introduced the first mobile phone to the consumer market in 1984 at a cost of nearly $4,000.
The Chicago area is also home to the first wireless TV remote, and the technology behind Plasma TV and LED technology.
And yes, as the Valley serves as the home to countless hardware success stories in recent years--from Apple to Nest to Fitbit--Chicago has a crop of up-and-coming entrepreneurs who are building products for both consumers and businesses that fit a market need.
But until two years ago, Chicago's hardware founders had few places they could go for things like CNC cutting, laser cutting, 3D printing and other high-tech machinery needed for making prototypes and bringing hardware products to life. Then came mHUB.
Officially launched just two years ago, mHUB quickly became the center of Chicago's hardware activity. Located in a former Motorola-owned building on Chicago's West Side, mHUB was founded to fill a much-needed gap in Chicago's startup ecosystem. Digital entrepreneurs have 1871. Health-tech founders have MATTER. And now makers have mHUB.
mHUB has grown to more than 600 members at 200 startup companies, who last year alone produced over 400 products and were awarded more than 40 patents.
To highlight some of the innovative hardware startups in Chicago—both at mHUB and elsewhere—we've listed several tinkerers, product makers and other physical product companies you need to know in Chicago.